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Chapter 72

Babbalanja Starts To His Feet


For twenty-four hours, seated stiff, and motionless, Babbalanja spoke
not a word; then, almost without moving a muscle, muttered thus:--"At
banquets surfeit not, but fill; partake, and retire; and eat not again
till you crave. Thereby you give nature time to work her magic
transformings; turning all solids to meat, and wine into blood. After
a banquet you incline to repose:--do so: digestion commands. All this
follow those, who feast at the tables of Wisdom; and all such are
they, who partake of the fare of old Bardianna."

"Art resuscitated, then, Babbalanja?" said Media. "Ay, my lord, I am
just risen from the dead."

"And did Azzageddi conduct you to their realms?"

"Fangs off! fangs off! depart, thou fiend!--unhand me! or by Oro, I
will die and spite thee!"

"Quick, quick, Mohi! let us change places," cried Yoomy.

"How now, Babbalanja?" said Media.

"Oh my lord man--not _you_ my lord Media!--high and mighty Puissance!
great King of Creation!--thou art but the biggest of braggarts! In
every age, thou boastest of thy valorous advances:--flat fools, old
dotards, and numskulls, our sires! All the Past, wasted time! the
Present knows all! right lucky, fellow-beings, we live now! every man
an author! books plenty as men! strike a light in a minute! teeth sold
by the pound! all the elements fetching and carrying! lightning
running on errands! rivers made to order! the ocean a puddle!--
But ages back they boasted like us; and ages to come, forever and
ever, they'll boast. Ages back they black-balled the past, thought the
last day was come; so wise they were grown. Mardi could not stand
long; have to annex one of the planets; invade the great sun; colonize
the moon;--conquerors sighed for new Mardis; and sages for heaven--
having by heart all the primers here below. Like us, ages back they
groaned under their books; made bonfires of libraries, leaving ashes
behind, mid which we reverentially grope for charred pages, forgetting
we are so much wiser than they.--But amazing times! astounding
revelations; preternatural divulgings!--How now?--more wonderful than
all our discoveries is this: that they never were discovered before.
So simple, no doubt our ancestors overlooked them; intent on deeper
things--the deep things of the soul. All we discover has been with us
since the sun began to roll; and much we discover, is not worth the
discovering. We are children, climbing trees after birds' nests, and
making a great shout, whether we find eggs in them or no. But where
are our wings, which our fore-fathers surely had not? Tell us, ye
sages! something worth an archangel's learning; discover, ye
discoverers, something new. Fools, fools! Mardi's not changed: the sun
yet rises in its old place in the East; all things go on in the same
old way; we cut our eye-teeth just as late as they did, three thousand
years ago."

"Your pardon," said Mohi, "for beshrew me, they are not yet all cut.
At threescore and ten, here have I a new tooth coming now."

"Old man! it but clears the way for another. The teeth sown by the
alphabet-founder, were eye-teeth, not yet all sprung from the soil.
Like spring-wheat, blade by blade, they break ground late; like
spring-wheat, many seeds have perished in the hard winter glebe. Oh,
my lord! though we galvanize corpses into St. Vitus' dances, we raise
not the dead from their graves! Though we have discovered the
circulation of the blood, men die as of yore; oxen graze, sheep
bleat, babies bawl, asses bray--loud and lusty as the day before the
flood. Men fight and make up; repent and go at it; feast and starve;
laugh and weep; pray and curse; cheat, chaffer, trick, truckle, cozen,
defraud, fib, lie, beg, borrow, steal, hang, drown--as in the laughing
and weeping, tricking and truckling, hanging and drowning times that
have been. Nothing changes, though much be new-fashioned: new fashions
but revivals of things previous. In the books of the past we learn
naught but of the present; in those of the present, the past. All
Mardi's history--beginning middle, and finis--was written out in
capitals in the first page penned. The whole story is told in a title-
page. An exclamation point is entire Mardi's autobiography."

"Who speaks now?" said Media, Bardianna, Azzageddi, or Babbalanja?"

"All three: is it not a pleasant concert?"

"Very fine: very fine.--Go on; and tell us something of the future."

"I have never departed this life yet, my lord."

"But just now you said you were risen from the dead." "From the buried
dead within me; not from myself, my lord."

"If you, then, know nothing of the future--did Bardianna?"

"If he did, naught did he reveal. I have ever observed, my lord, that
even in their deepest lucubrations, the profoundest, frankest,
ponderers always reserve a vast deal of precious thought for their own
private behoof. They think, perhaps, that 'tis too good, or too bad;
too wise, or too foolish, for the multitude. And this unpleasant
vibration is ever consequent upon striking a new vein of ideas in the
soul. As with buried treasures, the ground over them sounds strange
and hollow. At any rate, the profoundest ponderer seldom tells us all
he thinks; seldom reveals to us the ultimate, and the innermost;
seldom makes us open our eyes under water; seldom throws open
the totus-in-toto; and never carries us with him, to the
unconsubsistent, the ideaimmanens, the super-essential, and the One."

Confusion! Remember the Quadammodatatives!"

"Ah!" said Braid-Beard, "that's the crack in his calabash, which all
the Dicibles of Doxdox will not mend."

"And from that crazy calabash he gives us to drink, old Mohi."

"But never heed his leaky gourd nor its contents, my lord. Let these
philosophers muddle themselves as they will, we wise ones refuse to
partake."

"And fools like me drink till they reel," said Babbalanja. "But in
these matters one's calabash must needs go round to keep afloat.
Fogle-orum!"

Herman Melville